If you're new to coin collecting, then you might not be an expert at grading. It can be tricky to tell the difference between a "Very Fine" and a "Choice Fine" coin. That's why most coin collectors rely on a professional grading service. However, there are times when you will need to be able to estimate the grade. Events like estate sales and flea markets will often provide you with the opportunity to buy a Morgan silver dollar. These coins might not be in sealed slabs with an accompanying grade. So, in order to tell if the price is fair, it's helpful to be able to estimate the grade. You don't have to be precise, but you should be able to ballpark it.
Below is an overview of how to estimate the grade of a Morgan silver dollar. The terminology (Good, Fine, Extremely Fine, etc...) comes from the universally used Sheldon Scale. Different coins have different areas of import. What follows are the important spots on the Morgan Dollar.
Lady Liberty's Headband
The word "Liberty" should be clear. Coins that are graded Good and above all need to have the phrase clear. If the coin is so worn that the phrase is not clear, and each letter distinct, then the coin is in poor condition.
Lady Liberty's Hair
The details of Lady Liberty's hair need to be clear in order for the coin to rank Very Fine and above. The hairline needs to be clear and defined. For a coin to be Extremely Fine and above, the neckline needs to be well defined, and the curls need to stand out.
The hair should be raised, with minimal flatness. Excessive rubbing over the years causes flatness. You should be able to close your eyes and run a finger over the face of the coin and determine the hairline. If you cannot, then the coin is below Extremely Fine condition.
Lady Liberty's Cap
The cap should be distinguishable from the hairline for the coin to rank Good and above. Also, the cotton blossoms in the bottom of the cap should be visible, if worn.
In Excellent condition, the ears of wheat in the upper portion of the cap will be clear and distinct. Extremely Fine grade coins will have highly detailed cotton blossoms and individuated ears of wheat with brilliant detail.
The Eagles Feathers
At least half of the eagle's wing feathers must be clear for the coin to rank Good. The neck feathers can be dull in Good condition. If there are no feathers visible, then the coin is in poor condition.
Coins that grade Extremely Fine and above will have each wing feather clear and distinct. Also, the feathers on the eagle's neck will be clear. Finally, the eagle's breast feathers will be clear and defined.
The Three Arrows
The Eagle sits atop of a bundle of three arrows. In Fine condition and below, the three arrowheads may blend together because of wear. For Very Fine, Extremely Fine, and grades above, the arrowheads must be sharply differentiated. You can visit this site for more tips on grading.